Lifelong Formation Requires Encountering Christ Along the Way

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Caggiano issued a clarion call to Catholics to evangelize by living in joy and adopting new forms of catechesis and community that help people encounter Christ in the 21st century.

The bishop delivered the morning keynote at the “People of Joy” Formation Day held this morning in the Queen of Saints Hall at the Catholic Center.

The program also featured a presentation by Fr. Tom Gaunt, director of the CARA Catholic research institute, who shared national research concerning the challenges and opportunities for sharing the faith during a time of demographic and cultural change in the U.S.

Speaking to more than 75 catechists, directors of religious education and others involved in parish ministry, the bishop said it is time to re-imagine how parishes pass on the faith and engage people in lifelong formation.

Patrick Donovan, Director of the diocesan Leadership Institute that sponsored the program, distributed the first copies of the Catechetical Task Force Finding & Recommendations published in the Invitation to Lifelong Formation.

The report, 18 months in the making, includes best practices, “quick wins” and recommendations, which represent a blueprint for a new era of faith formation in the diocese.

“ If we are going to accompany people, we have to revitalize our parishes, there’s no alternative. The ‘same old, same old’ is not going to do it,” Bishop Caggiano said, thanks task force members and describing the catechetical renewal effort “as a fruit of the Synod.”

“This is a moment when every baptized person has to stand up on own feet and make a choice between discipleship as a spectator sport or as mission,” the bishop said.

The bishop said that Pope Francis has called the Church to “missionary discipleship” by sharing the Good News of the Gospel with the world, “not just talking about Christ,” but encountering him in our parishes and communities.

“Pope Francis comes like a bolt of lightning, giving us profound challenges in a world where many people don’t see the need to be affiliated with the Church,” said the bishop.

“He is saying that you and I in order to bring the Good News are called to be missionary disciples. Our mission is to go out to those in need, one person at a time,” he said.

“To be a disciple means you cannot share what you do not have, and you can’t invite others to one you do not know. This whole enterprise begins in the quiet moment of prayer where the Lord fills your broken heart, allowing you to proclaim he’s alive in you that we may be credible witness of his love to others.”

The bishop said that if parishes become more welcoming and inspiring faith communities, they can also bring back Catholics who have left the Church.

“Catholics are united in baptism and through the Holy Spirit. Even if someone walks away from you like the Prodigal Son, you can run after them and invite them home.”

He said there is a growing urgency to the need for change because young people continue to leave the Church.

“Tis is the time for us as a diocesan family to rise to this great grace. More and more young people are leaving the church at earlier and earlier ages. For some, the exodus begins at 7 and ends by time they’ 13. They feel no need to be part of the community they can’t create with their own hands by social media.”

The bishop’s concerns were underscored by the CARA research presented by Fr. Gaunt, a noted sociologist, who said that in the past twenty years there has been a decline across the board in Catholics receiving the sacraments from Baptism through Marriage and final Catholic funeral rites.

Fr. Gaunt said research repeatedly shows that many Catholics leave the Church because they don’t feel welcomed, and “they don’t feel nourished. Many go elsewhere where they find a sense of belonging.”

CARA research shows that even among families that identify as Catholics, the young are receiving very little formal faith formation because parents do not talk about the faith at home or bring their children to Church, he said.

He said that it is unlikely that Catholics will return to older forms of catechesis and that they Church must look for new ways to build community and move people forward in their faith journey

Fr. Gaunt said that a renewal of catechesis will also require much more welcoming approach and response when people come forward for the sacraments or in crisis.

“Are these points of contact welcoming and warm, or are they cold, rule-bound and detached? “ he asked.

On a hopeful note, Fr. Gaunt said that even among the vast majority of Catholics who rarely or never attend Mass, they continue to identify as Catholic and place great value on prayer and their children receiving the Sacraments.

Patrick Donovan added that many Catholics don’t “feel missed,” and that parishes and other structures can do better by re-imagining faith formation.

“This is not a moment of judgment. It’s a moment of renewal. This process is the invitation, the permission to move forward. For the first time in my work with the Church a bishop has said, let’s do something different and has given us the tools to do it. “

Donovan that parishes “remain the sacrament home of Catholics” and that 20 parishes will begin a pilot program in the Spring to create a new approach to lifelong formation.

“The path of accompaniment talked about by our bishop and Pope Francis may not lead people inside the building, but it will always lead them to God,” said Donovan.

An invitation to Lifelong Formation, the 36-page catechetical report, is available in print and will be posted on line in many languages. It can be downloaded in its entirety or in individual sections. For more information visit

Photos by Michelle Babyak